This post is way overdue because it’s hard to top last year’s race, with all the spectacular snow. But you can’t compare one day to another any more than you can really, truly be compare people – they’re all individuals and all interesting in their own way. No two courses, fields of runners, weather conditions, are ever the same from year to year and my own viewpoint, colored by life circumstances, is never the same either.
For example, this year my attention was dominated by one of my few recurring injuries, a sacroilliac joint with a mind of its own. It had refused to stay in place since early January I knocked it out in a fall at the GUTS Fat Ass. Since then, what was usually put right in a visit or two to the sports chiropractor, wasn’t responding. I could no longer ignore it and sure, I could limp through this 50k but I was starting to worry it would never stay in place. I’m lucky to run like I do and am conscious it could come to an end. Is this it…?
So with the injury and being out of shape, the potential for making things worse or even acquiring a new injury was a possibility. This course can also be slick and icy, so slipping was likely and could be bad. So, Rob and I planned to take it slow – I typically run this with Rob and his Achilles tendons were hobbling him too.
We ran into Suzelle Snowden and her Cincinatti crew in the hotel that morning exactly like we did last year. Some were running the 15-mile version and two – Suzelle (who we ran with last year and her friend Molly McElfresh were running the full 50k. They were all in pink jackets, full of anticipation and laughing. I couldn’t help but miss my own Quick Chicks.
The day was supposed to warm up tolerably but on the hilltop for the start it was freezing and we parked in inches of snow. It better melt or we’d never get Rob’s car out again. Putting warm, dry feet down in the wet snow was an unwelcome shock. I knew better but couldn’t resist starting with a light jacket and hat.
While we were milling around waiting for the start, we got word that Cynthia Heady, the RD, wouldn’t be there because her father had died. Standing there in the cold, I tried to imagine putting my own race on in those circumstances, but couldn’t. Directing a race can be challenging enough as it is. I was amazed and grateful to her and the rest of the volunteers for holding the race anyway.
First Lollipop (5.5 miles)
The course this year was a set of three different lollipops, all linked together at the parking lot by their stems. Thankfully, they had removed the long intermediate pavement section, which was always a killer for me. More time on dirt this year.
We started with long, tall Naresh, and that was the last I saw of him that day. He loped away from us and disappeared in the crowd ahead as the crowd itself started to pull away. It was going to be a slow day but at least I was here and healthy enough to run and enjoy the day.
Footing was going to be interesting. The snow was patchy but had been packed down so hard on the trail that the first downhill was like ice. I felt as fragile as glass and took it that way. Rob, on the other hand, had put screws in his shoes and managed much easier, which about equalized us on pace. Still, I pined for the stability of my Yaktrax that lay sitting in the car.
As the pack strung out, I got to run momentarily with Ed Kirk, who does an outstanding job manning the race blog, before we found ourselves more evenly matched with two friends of Rob’s from his old Ohio days, Pat Gorman and Kathy Siculan.
At the end of the loop, we stopped at the cars so Rob could pull two of the screws out of his shoes. It seems the preferred size screws weren’t available so he’d settled for the next longer size, which were apparently a tad too long. Yes, this means the pointy ends were sticking into his foot, something you would definitely want to fix as soon as possible.
The parking lot always seemed to be the coldest place on this course, and sure enough, the jacket was too much. Maybe next year I’d be able to resist the temptation to overdress. Still, I stuffed the hat in my fanny pocket as insurance. It might not be freezing but wasn’t warm either.
Second Lollipop (7.5 miles)
The trails all look familiar but I get the order here confused so was continually being surprised by seeing “old friends” around ever turn.
Speaking of old friends, we got to see David Hughes, out in the woods directing at the turn where the stem of the lollipop changed to the loop part. He usually volunteers at the race but it’s always reassuring to actually see him here.
The lollipop went slow but smoothly, with Kathy and I chatting up front about a surprisingly wide array of shared interests while Rob and Pat spent their time yards behind us reminiscing about old times and old friends. The pace stayed at my hip’s outer comfort zone, so it didn’t require much thought. Only run and enjoy the sunshine and the company.
We caught up with Suzelle and Molly at an aid station and got to run some with them on the way to the end of the lollipop.
Third Lollipop (19 miles)
They saved the longest lollipop, with the infamous Scott’s Gap Loop, for last. Last year, the supposed 3ish miles of that loop ran like 5 and I was hoping this year it would be easier.
By now, the snow was melting on sunny sides of the hills. The miles out to the start of the Scott’s Gap loop went easily with Pat and Kathy still as company.
Scott’s loop was incredibly muddy on the up and downhills but overall not too bad. In fact, yes, I would almost agree with the stated mileage. Last year’s snow must have been worse footing than I remembered.
On our way back to the finish, the sun seemed awfully low in the sky and like last year, I started to worry that we wouldn’t finish in the light. Rob said we were doing fine but I still had doubts. It wouldn’t be horrible – there’s still a good deal of light after the sun sets and since we’d come out this way, we generally knew where we were headed, but I didn’t like running that slow.
In spite of any worry, the miles went fast and I was a little sad to see the day end. Those are fun trails and the company had been refreshing.
Suzelle and Molly’s friends were waiting for them at the finish with champagne, enthusiastically cheering everyone that came across the line. We finished to their cheers, a few minutes slower even than last year, but in good shape to drive home and with no new injuries and they shared a flute of champagne to celebrate. That, Cynthia’s homemade soups and the Arbor Foundation seedling we get as an official finisher’s award, were more than enough reward for the opportunity to get to run this course.
This race always seems like a hidden gem, tucked away in the darkest part of winter, outside my usual geographic range, and just when I most need to get outside. I’m especially grateful this year to Cynthia for putting it on. The race and everyone’s company was a much-needed bright spot in a long cold winter.